The Right of Children to be Heard: Children’s Rights to Have Their Views Taken into Account and to Participate in Legal and Administrative Proceedings

This paper addresses the right of children to be heard in any judicial or administrative proceeding affecting them. It introduces the subject based on examples from the laws and practices of 52 countries around the world, shedding further light on a topic covered in the UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre publication Law Reform and Implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (2007). It targets child rights advocates, researchers, legal practitioners and other professionals working in the area of children and the law.

It begins with an analysis of the text of article 12.2 in the light of other provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and other norms of international human rights law. It reviews the legislation of selected countries, including laws that establish fixed limits concerning the age at which a child can or must be heard in various types of legal and administrative proceedings (such as child protection proceedings, family law proceedings, criminal proceedings in which the child is a witness). It also addresses laws that establish other criteria (such as maturity, ability to understand, risk of adverse psychological consequences) for such purposes.

It then explores the reasons underlying criteria such as age limits used in different legal systems for determining when a child will be heard in legal or administrative proceedings. It examines how laws are applied in practice in different legal systems, including the flexibility of the criteria as applied in practice and the extent to which the views of children are actually taken into account. It then reviews efforts made by selected countries to make children’s participation in legal and administrative proceedings child sensitive, such as by making the courtroom less intimidating, barring repeated interrogation on sensitive subjects and establishing new modalities of cross-examination. The author looks at the advances made in some countries in recognizing children’s right to legal services and legal representation and offer findings and recommendations.

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